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When Adults Misbehave…Children Pay

“Familiarity breeds contempt—and children” ~Mark Twain

A person doesn’t remember every day of his life, but I do remember Saturday, 22 March 1958. It was a bleak, dreary day. The dawn of spring, with the hangover of winter. My dad had taken us to the river to look for arrowheads.

While he was scrounging around, treasure-hunting, near the top of the hour, my dad told us to turn on the car radio and turn up the volume, so he could catch the news. We were shocked to hear that Mike Todd, a theater producer—and more sensationally, the husband of Elizabeth Taylor—had been killed in a plane crash. A tragedy in itself, of course; but none of us, at the time, could have foreseen what further tragedy this would lead to: serial marriages, serial sets of children, some children not even knowing their own parents or their half-siblings.

Liz Taylor had been married to Conrad Hilton Jr, millionaire playboy and scion of the Hilton empire …. To actor Michael Wilding (old enough to be her father), by whom she had had two sons, Michael Jr and Christopher (Wilding’s only children) …. To Mike Todd, a marriage that, within six months, produced a daughter, Liza.

Mike Todd, of Polish Jewish descent, some years her senior (even his son, Mike Jr, was her senior), seemed tough, manly; people were hopeful this marriage would last, which only made Mike’s death more shocking. (It was the only marriage, for both, that would not end in divorce.) Now, again Liz Taylor was unmarried—and available.

Supposedly Mike Todd and Eddie Fisher had been “best friends”; but Mike, in his late forties, was old enough to be Eddie’s father as well as Liz’s. When Mike and Liz “eloped” to Mexico, Eddie and his wife, Debbie Reynolds, accompanied them: Eddie as best man; Debbie, as matron of honor. Eddie and Debbie were a young couple with two young children, Carrie and Todd (named for Mike Todd). After Mike’s death, it was Debbie’s husband who comforted Liz.

Eddie, a good-looking twenty-something, of Russian Jewish descent, was the most successful pop artist of the first half of the 1950s, selling millions of records and hosting his own TV show. What a powerful voice! What a future he might have had! Against all reason, he left his wife and two young children (Debbie’s only children) and married his friend’s widow. According to Debbie, in the wake of Mike’s death, Eddie went “over there” to comfort Liz and never came back.

Liz Taylor already had a reputation. People could believe she would break up a home to steal another woman’s husband; they couldn’t believe Eddie Fisher, that good-looking young man, would break up a home to follow her.

Physically, Eddie and Liz matched. http://www.milliontalks.com/uploads/monthly_09_2010/post-8-042671100%201285731991_thumb.jpgBoth were small, dark-headed, and close in age (Eddie was three years older and two inches taller than Liz). They looked better with each other than either looked with any other spouse. Under ordinary circumstances, their union (1959-1964) would have produced children; but in the wake of Liza’s “premature” birth, middle-aged Mike Todd had had his much-younger bride sterilized. And so, Liz, now infertile, and Eddie were looking into adopting a girl from Germany.

By this time, however, Liz was making Cleopatra and had found a new love, Richard Burton, long-time husband of Sybil Burton and father of Kate and Jessica (his only biological children). Richard would leave Sybil for Liz; Liz would leave Eddie for Richard. Richard would adopt her half-orphaned daughter, Liza, and the girl Liz was planning to adopt, Maria.

If you had asked Eddie Fisher, he would have told you that Liz Taylor was the love of his life; if you had asked Liz Taylor, she would have told you that Richard Burton was the love of her life. Did either know what love was?

The public didn’t like public figures behaving badly. They wanted moral clauses; they expected human beings to have boundaries and to stay in their place. Homes shouldn’t be broken. Short-term, serial “marriages” between entertainment figures were nothing more than legalized affairs—”high-school” romances, “puppy love.” Such unions made a mockery of true “until death do us part” marriage and set a bad example.

Eddie Fisher lost his family, and by 1960 he was having a hard time trying to recharge his career—as a matter of fact, it never fully happened (he had one hit 1966). He turned to drugs and alcohol, which only added insult to injury—alcohol, as any trained vocalist knows, dries the mouth and ruins the voice. After his divorce from Liz, he married Connie Stevens, television actress and former spouse of James Stacy (himself the former spouse of Kim Darby), and by her had two daughters, Joely and Tricia (Connie’s only children). Then he divorced yet again, left two children yet again, and was an absentee father to both families. Todd Fisher would tell you that at Christmas Debbie would put under the tree presents “from Dad” that Dad knew nothing about. As grown girls, Joely and Tricia were introduced to their father on national television.

Bad enough for someone to live this kind of life; worse, to live it so publicly, where it could be imitated.

But this is the true picture of fornication and adultery: shared saliva, shared STDs because of all this “cross-pollination,” “husbands-in-law,” “wives-in-law,” fractured relationships, and many neglected, forgotten children—who has time for his kids when he’s messing around with his girl friend? Broken families. Broken lives. Broken careers. Lost years. Lost talent. Lost perspective. Brokenness. Lostness. Aloneness. Not to mention attorney fees, court costs, wasted time, wasted resources (some noble tree having to give its life for all this paperwork!), squandered property (real and personal), alimony, and child support.

Moral deeds have moral consequences. Sin in its infancy may appear attractive, but “sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (James 1:15). Look at any of these serial spouses in old age, if they lived that long, and observe the lines in their faces, the loss of their good looks, the waste of years. Sin shows.

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” ~Theodore Hesburgh

Copyright © 2015 Alexandra Lee